“Ah,” I hear none of you say in silent unison. Come on people, some of these songs must ring a bell; How Can I tell her; Love is Blue; I’d Love You to Want Me?
I see. Well the hits are not as important as what Lobo represents — those many western singers and songs Vietnamese incorrectly assume westerners in Vietnam know.
Lobo is one of dozens of western solo artists and bands who, after enjoying a flicker of the limelight back home, have gone on to become, and remain, popular in Vietnam and other parts of Asia.
If you have been in Hanoi for a long time, you may be familiar with this scenario: You. Karaoke. Group of Vietnamese. Group of Vietnamese urges you to sing. You show hesitation. Group of Vietnamese chooses a song for you in your figurative absence. Chosen song blasts from speakers. Representative of group of Vietnamese hands you the microphone. Name of chosen song appears on screen. You are baffled. You show bafflement. They show bafflement at your bafflement. The bafflements are drawn.
“Please,” comes the first salvo, accompanied by a peppering of open-palmed gestures urging you to sing. “What is this song?” you shoot back in self-defence. “I’m not being shy, I swear. I’ve never heard of this song in my life!”
Eventually you convince them you are telling the truth, and there is brief soul-searching — am I so out of touch? — followed by prolonged song searching, as the black vinyl books are reopened and alternative suggestions pour forth.
The Legend Behind the Name
If you are like me you will round out the evening with your laptop. A Google search for “Lobo” and “Wikipedia” turns up “Lobo (DC Comics)”, an interstellar bounty hunter out to kill Superman. This is not the Lobo you want. Further searching brings up “Lobo (Musician)”. This is the one.
In 1971, Lobo released Me and You and a Dog Named Boo, a song you may well have heard as there are a few others devoted to the subject. Boo flew to number five on the US charts, an octane start. In 1972, Lobo’s I’d Love You to Want Me flew even higher, landing at number two. Roland Kent Lavoie was on his way…
Down. Number two was the highest Lobo ever charted. Although losing ground in the US, Lobo’s popularity grew in Asia, fanned by the release of his greatest hits compilations in 1987 and 1988.
In 1989, he released his first new album in ten years, Am I Going Crazy? It was recorded in Taiwan, and no, he wasn’t; he was going to the bank. Lobo then signed a multi-album deal with a Singapore record company and in 1994 released Asian Moon, repackaging tracks from Am I Going Crazy. In 2006, the ever-wandering wolf packed out venues on a South-East Asian tour.
Of course it’s not just Lobo. Along with the lesser-known artists are the well-known bands with well-known songs that are even more well-known in Vietnam. Abba’s Happy New Year is so big (we’re in December, you may want to memorise the lyrics), I’m starting to believe I’ve sung it at each New Year gathering since I was four. My friends certainly assume I have; my eyes are blue, how could that not be the case?
Likewise, the Carpenter’s Yesterday Once More is known to a far higher percentage of young Vietnamese than young westerners in Vietnam. Perhaps this is because the chorus lyrics present few linguistic hurdles — every sha la la la, every wo wo wo — but more likely because the melody, tempo and emotional range are in line with what many Vietnamese young people desire in a modern pop song.
You could not, for example, slap the translated lyrics of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android onto a standard Vietnamese pop melody. The result would be brilliant. But a mess. Radio stations wouldn’t touch it. Not so with the Carpenters or Lobo. The lyrics would fit right in. Clean-cut. Clever in bits, soppy in others. “Just right”, as Goldilocks said before being chased out of the house by the three bears.
We never learned what happened to Goldilocks. The later events in her story were kept from us. They must have been bad. Luckily for Lobo, the later events in his story have been, if equally obscured, decidedly more upbeat.
For the 10 songs that have made it big in Vietnam, click here